Data-driven Growth Strategies for O&P Practices

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By Ryan Ball

Many O&P professionals and practice owners I talk to don't have a sales team; most don't like making sales visits or calls, and virtually all say they don't have the time to do more business development.

As competition between post-acute healthcare providers continues to tighten and reimbursements continue to decline, O&P practices must begin to think differently about where their business comes from and how they seek and cultivate new business opportunities. Why do your current referral sources work with you? Are you reaching your full potential with key referral sources? If you have all the high-value patients in the area, how do your competitors stay in business?

If you are not asking these questions, someone in your market is or soon will be. With increasing provider consolidation, there are still many facets of the custom O&P business market that are proving attractive to outside groups looking to invest in growing American healthcare markets. The high level of reimbursement for custom devices, demographic analysis of an aging and overweight American populace, and a fragmented provider community are all contributing factors in new competitors popping up across the country. These practices are mostly free of the institutional headaches and burdens that have plagued so many independent providers over the past few years and are starting fresh. They are well funded and have learned lessons about what works, particularly sales targeting and conversion, from adjacent post-acute healthcare markets.

Pharmaceutical companies learned this lesson decades ago: the more you communicate with key physicians, the more likely they are to prescribe your drug or refer patients to a preferred provider. To focus on key physicians, pharmaceutical representatives used data that ranked physicians by the volume of prescriptions they wrote for targeted drugs. Medical device companies were not far behind pharmaceuticals in utilizing data to identify and rank top opportunities.

Why have durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies providers, specifically custom O&P providers, missed the memo on the importance of sales and marketing to grow a business and remaining relevant in a changing healthcare landscape? Many O&P practitioners didn't get into O&P to be business professionals, let alone act as sales representatives. Most practitioners I've known got into O&P because of a personal connection to the O&P profession, including joining the family business, or they wanted to help people. Many small, independent practices that dominated the O&P landscape have seen significant growth from previous generations and have been forced from full-time patient care to some level of business management.

With business acumen on the rise, what is the next step for an independent O&P practice owner? It's targeted sales engagement with key, high-value referral sources in your markets. Whether you have a dedicated sales or marketing staff or not, to remain relevant, a modern, independent O&P practice must effectively communicate with its referral sources and seek out new opportunities with physicians working with local competitors. A good place to start is to review data that you already have at your disposal through your electronic medical records (EMR) application. Which physicians send you the most referrals? When was the last time you received a referral from key physicians? How does their volume compare year over year?

These questions are answered with data you already have, but the answers likely are not being utilized as part of a referral source management or sales enablement strategy. Once you've determined your key physicians, assign a key account manager; this can be the clinic's owner, the prosthetist working with patients from that physician, or a sales representative. The goal is to put a professional face on your business brand and engage in targeted, tactical conversations that strengthen your relationship through effective and timely communication. For example:

"Dr. Johnson, I wanted to send you this video of Sally Patient, the patient with the transtibial amputation you sent us earlier this year. We have fitted Sally with a socket and prosthesis, and she wanted you to see her first steps."

This strategy can also be useful in determining which offices to target for education, in-service lunches, or the like.

The data in your EMR is valuable, but it can only help you market to physicians with whom you are already working. The next level of sales targeting involves finding physicians who do not currently top your key physicians list but are actively seeing and referring patients who need O&P services. Investing in targeted claims data to identify and rank physicians who perform amputations, refer patients in need of custom O&P intervention, or even refer patients to O&P competitors by volume will help you compete with large, structured sales/marketing operations without investing in a large, structured sales force.

Depending on your market and geographic footprint, a dedicated sales person or a dedicated practice owner can have a significant impact in sourcing and converting high-value referral sources who are not currently sending you business. One person cannot do the job of ten unless he or she is much more efficient, nimble, and armed with the most relevant market intelligence for your business development strategy. Investing in data allows a small practice to boil all the relevant O&P referral sources in your markets down to a list of your best opportunities for growth. Value and segment those opportunities based on potential reward, and create tiered contact plans for each segment. The cream-of-the-crop opportunities should garner the full attention of practice owners, with additional engagement from sales/marketing staff. At the second and third tiers, ownership involvement can be reduced and supplemented by other staff.

Whether or not you have a sales team, targeted referral source management and business development strategies are a must for an independent O&P practice to grow in 2018 and beyond. If you are not talking to your referral sources or trying to find new ones, I assure you someone else is or soon will be.

Ryan Ball is the director of VGM Market Data and specializes in developing programs to identify, engage, and convert high-value referral sources for O&P companies by analyzing targeted claims data across the country. For more information about how data can be utilized by an O&P practice to find new growth opportunities, he can be contacted at